Form a circle, including yourself, facing into the centre.
Ask everyone to randomly identify two ‘secret’ people (standing in the circle,) and label them ‘Left-hand Person,’ and ‘Right-hand Person.’
When ready, instruct everyone to position themselves so that they are always positioned between their Left-hand and Right-hand people.
Try a second round with two different ‘secret’ people.
Video Transcript for Left Person Right Person
presented by Mark Collard
You’ll be familiar with the term a bit like, it’s like, the most reliable person, the dependable person, it’s like that one you go to type person. Let’s call them your right hand man or right woman, right hand person.
Now within this group, whilst I also know that you work with each other, just randomly pick anybody in this group who for this exercise will become your right hand person. Okay? They won’t know that you’ve picked them. Just in your own mind go Oh yeah I’ll just pick them today. Okay, it doesn’t have to ordinarily be the person that you’d ordinarily would rely on. Just pick anybody.
They are your right hand person.
You need to now understand that sometimes that they don’t turn up. Okay, for whatever reason they may not be around. You need someone else to now rely on so let’s have a second person like a 2 IC up your sleeve. Let’s call them your left hand person. So you should have two people in mind right now.
Here’s what’s going to happen is that when I say go, because I find this works pretty well to start a game, you need to position yourself so that your right hand person is on your right hand side, your left hand person is on your left hand side, and you are always between those two people. Anytime they move you need to be between the two of them. Got the idea? Go!
(Group starts to move around the room playing Left Person Right Person)
Alright, hold it there. Very good. Hold it there. Excellent!
Now you’re going to play a little curriculum stuff on you for a moment. Obviously, it wasn’t, but let’s assume that that was the very first thing I did in my program.
Now in advance of you arriving, in advance of you actually just doing that exercise, before you arrived I was very busy filling out my curriculum planning sheet that says what’re you going to do, why you’re doing it, what you need to bring, how long it’s going to go for, blah, blah, blah.
If you had to speculate for that exercise right there, Left Person/Right Person, what is a possible outcome I was looking to achieve, and don’t think too hard about it? What is a possible outcome, that exercise, I was looking to achieve?
Laughter. What happened when you got closer?
Touched! Exactly, a lot of touching was going on. So it might be, it might be what’s necessary for the rest of my program that we cut through that stuff that in fact touching has occurred. Would you agree that objective was achieved?
Okay great. Forget it ever happened.
Let’s assume now, let’s assume now that that actually never occurred so that, yeah let’s separate them now, let’s assume that never actually happened. Approach B, that was approach A, so again I’ve gone to all my trouble worked out what my curriculum planning is. And I say Hi thanks so much for coming today. My name is Mark. I’ve got a great program lined up. There’s a few things we need to get through before we actually get to the real meat of the program. So just for the next thirty seconds could I invite you just to jump into the centre of the circle and start touching each other. You ready, here we go.
(Awkward touching in the centre playing Left Person Right Person)
Alright, go on back to the circle. I had way too many candidates there. Scary, no. It’s not.
Our circle is getting a little bigger so superhero circle folks. Superhero dut-duh-duh-duh. Very good.
So two approaches they each had identical outcomes. Now even though I had a number of people come and join me on the second version, not everyone did. Why? What’s the distinction between the two different activities? Approach A, approach B.
(You said the word touching.)
I said the word touching. So don’t use the word touching.
(One is just accidental touch and the other one is sort of organised touching.)
Yes that’s right. That’s one way of looking at it, absolutely.
So looking at approach A accidental touching in the beginning. Touching was actually incidental wasn’t it? What was the goal of the exercise then?
(To get between two people.)
Great, except on my curriculum planning sheet it was about getting people to touch. However, you saw it and understood it as actually being between two people. Notice that the goal was achieved.
Second time around, even though we had few people jump in, societally that would never had happened.
And I’m going to tell you that in the twenty years I’ve been presenting that that’s the most number of people that have come in. That’s a little scary. There’s something about this group going on.
But generally, no one would have gone in there because of what you said. It’s like whoa wait a second you’ve asked for too much. Yet only moments ago you had all been doing it. Why? What’s the difference?
That in fact most programs tend to be using approach B, and then they wonder why they meet resistance. Because you’ve often asked for too much, the group is not ready in terms of its sequence, in terms of its appropriateness, it’s not ready.
Yet only minutes before when I gave you approach A. you were quite happy to get in there and do it.
The difference was is that I used an exercise that gave you another reason to be there, and that the touching was incidental. It actually fell out of the bottom of the exercise. There was no resistance there because what you saw was actually something that you were prepared to be engaged with. That was the game, the fun, whatever that experience meant for you in terms of your own words.
Where the second approach, approach B, was like Whoa! you know in our society that’s just not something we do by just touching each other. It was giving you too much too soon at that point.
How To Play Narrative
Standing in a circle facing in, including yourself, ask everyone in your group to randomly identify two other people (it doesn’t matter if they know them or not.)
Explain that you want one of these people to be labelled ‘Left-hand Person’ and the other to be labelled ‘Right-hand Person.’
This is clearly not a difficult set-up, but the task is.
Instruct your group that in a few moments, you want every person to situate themselves (physically) so that their Left-hand Person is on their left-hand side and, you guessed it, their Right-hand Person is on their right. At all times, ie this is the challenge.
If your set-up has been clear, don’t wait too long to announce “GO” and witness the pandemonium.
As a group, the task is impossible to achieve, although most people will try hard to position themselves in the right spot for as long as possible. And that’s OK, it’s meant to be fun.
Try another round with two different Left- and Right-hand people.
If you’d like to draw more from this exercise than a good time, check out the Leadership Tips tab below.
Practical Leadership Tips
It is prudent to observe the group and the level of safety consciousness its members are willing to assume. If you sense the physical interactions are getting too rough, stop the activity.
The point about launching straight into the activity once you have completed the briefing is important. Lest, questions or comments from those who can see what’s about to happen will snuff the excitement and adventure of the exercise.
This is a brilliant exercise to conduct directly before a discussion about the importance of sequencing, or preparation, to help one deliver outstanding programmatic results. Here’s my set-up: Present the exercise as described above, and once it is complete, ask your group to identify what outcomes you (the leader) achieved in the activity. Many suggestions will be made, but focus on the fact that there was lots of physical contact and touching. Next, ask your group to imagine that they have just gathered and the activity Left Person Right Person was not presented. Welcome your group and then suddenly ask them to jump into the centre of the circle and start touching each other! Errr, no! (for obvious reasons.) Here’s the kicker – in each scenario, your goal was to invite your group to make physical contact and touch each other. Yet, in only one occasion (the first) did this occur. Why? Focus on the fact that the touching was incidental to the goal of Left Person Right Person (first version,) and so was easily achieved. However, when we simply asked for what we wanted (second version,) we didn’t get it. This distinction speaks directly to the importance of preparation – without appropriate sequencing (just another word for preparation,) we often set ourselves up for failure.
You could integrate Left Person Right Person as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interactions across different situations.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Controlling One’s Emotions
Identifying & Managing Stress
Demonstrating Self-Discipline & Self-Motivation
Setting Personal & Group Goals
Use Planning & Organisational Skills
Taking Other’s Perspectives
Demonstrating Empathy & Compassion
Communicate & Listen Effectively
Demonstrate Cultural Competency
Demonstrating Curiosity & Open-Mindedness
Making Reasoned Judgements
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
This is a classic exercise that will easily highlight the impact of competing goals. Take a look at the commentary in the Leadership Tips tab for a practical explanation of how you can frame this activity to focus on the value of setting goals and sequencing to prepare for success.
Note that the activity was most successful when the goal was incidental to the overall focus of the participants, ie your goal was achieved but the group was not aware. This speaks broadly to the benefits of experiential learning as a methodology because critical health and wellness competencies can be explored and developed in the midst of the assigned task without the group being fully aware that this happening, ie they are so absorbed in the experience.
Facing Forward: Invite each person to (secretly) identify just one person, whom they must always position themselves directly in front of.
More Programmed Failure: Take a look at Mission Impossible to enjoy another programmed-failure group exercise.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Most people are familiar with the concept of having a “Right-hand Person’ to rely on. You know, they’re often your most valued team member or friend, etc. Even if your actual ‘Right-hand” person is in this group, I would like you to randomly pick one other person and imagine that they are your ‘Right-hand’ man or woman. Got it? Okay, let’s suggest that this person is not available, so you often call on the help of the next most reliable colleague – let’s call them your ‘Left-hand Person.’ Look around, and again, identify one person randomly in the group who you will know as your ‘Left-hand Person.’ Okay, you should now have two people in your mind. Now, when I say “GO,” I want everyone to move into a position…
Ever been in a group situation, having spied someone on the other side of the room you wanted to speak with? You work your way across to the other side of the room, only to discover… they moved! Sound familiar? Then, so will this next exercise…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this simple, yet powerful interactive game:
What did you immediately notice about the exercise?
How difficult was it to accomplish your task? Why?
How did you respond to this challenge? Did you give up, or keep working?
How do we respond to challenges in our everyday lives? What are some examples?
The inspiration for Left Person Right Person has been lost over the years, but it was certainly developed out of a furtive desire to identify a fun activity to accompany a discussion about sequencing in one of my training workshops.